Passing the Torch

(The torch of faith passed on to me from childhood has illuminated corners of existence my family never imagined. Still, early lessons can be powerful! I first shared this in a weekly column I wrote for the “Alice Echo,” then later in a collection of meditations called 52: Weekly Readings for Your Journey)

We all have favorite school teachers who taught us more than subject material; they imparted lessons about life. Yet in the cradles of our journeys, parents remain our earliest, most potent tutors. Their words and actions mold our outlooks from infancy.

My ordination day, September 27, 1987
My ordination day, September 27, 1987

Clearly, this can be positive or negative. In decades of working with people, I have seen both kinds of parental legacies. Learning to claim the best (and leave the rest) from our families is a healing journey many of us have taken. Some of us still need to.

On this Mother’s Day, I celebrate my Mom. Our relationship hasn’t been easy. Thankfully, over time we discovered a grace that is the cornerstone of our faith. This faith has been my mother’s greatest gift to me, a priceless heirloom. Let me share a memory that clearly highlights this.

My childhood neighborhood swarmed with kids, evidence of the Baby Boom. Like typical children, we often took sides and fought with each other. One day the conflict moved from taunts and posturing to rock throwing and BB guns. On the other side, I could see one of my “enemies.” His name was Gentry and he was a Goliath, heads taller than the rest of us. He was also mean as a snake, channeling anger from a severely abusive family.

Under a bright sun, we lined up in two gangs and advanced toward each other like fronts in a medieval battle. When fists started flying, Gentry singled me out. He had a board with rusted nails that he hurled like a lance. It struck my head, leaving a gash that gushed freely down my neck and onto my shirt.

The sight of so much blood drained the fight from all of us. We halted and scrambled back to our homes.

That night, my stitched head wrapped in Ace bandages, I lay under the sheets. My mother came to my bedside for prayer, a ritual she kept with all her children.

“We have something special to pray for tonight, don’t we?” she asked.

“We sure do,” I replied. “That God would take the pain from my head.”

“That’s not what I’m thinking,” she said. “We should pray for Gentry, that God would take the hatred from his heart.”

I felt an instant wave of resent. Why pray for that jerk? He was the guilty one. He was my enemy.

But with a sudden flash of wisdom beyond my years, I thought about the daily dysfunction Gentry endured in his family – the lack of a love I took for granted. My resent morphed into compassion. My mother waited silently, hoping this would take root in my heart. Finally, I took her hand and we prayed for Gentry and his kin.

One of the core teachings of Jesus is to love our enemies. Do not return evil for evil, but pray for those who persecute you. That night my mother illustrated one of the greatest elements of the faith she was passing on to me. I carry that torch to this day.

Mothers and fathers, your influence is incalculable! Raise your children with love and encouragement. Most importantly, pass on any faith you have that calls us to a higher plain.

And Mom, thanks for doing this with me. I love you!

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